Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Kudzu, Carter, and Other Calamities

When we were finished demolishing everything and cleaning up, I discovered something piquant, at least to my tortured mind. Look at that circle around the electrical box where the porch light used to hold court.

Yup, it’s green. It’s very old, and discolored, but it’s a nice shade of green. Some former denizens painted around the jelly jar light and left me an older paint sample.

When we moved here, the house was painted a dreadful blue color. That scheme was fairly recent. It was white before that. It’s a Queen Anne house. There are two colors that Queen Annes don’t favor: blue, and white. We selected a color scheme with an olive color, a tawny yellow trim color, and a brick red for doors and sashes. It’s the best Victorian color scheme I’ve ever come up with. And now I’ve finally found some evidence that somewhere along the line, some former owners weren’t daft, and favored about the same color green I like, at least on part of the house.

What about the white? We have a picture of the house in the 1960s, courtesy of our neighbor, who is courteous indeed, and it was white in the pictures. I’ve found coats of a tawny yellow on the trim here and there. But if you’ve ever wondered why every house of every style was painted white with black shutters, for a good, long while, I can clue you in. It was the Centennial.

No, not the Bicentennial. I was alive for that one, in 1976. We decided to celebrate the 200-year anniversary of the founding of the country by electing a peanut farmer to the presidency, taking off our Whip Inflation Now buttons, listening to Peter Frampton records, and waving some flags. That’s about all I can remember. But a hundred years before that, they threw a proper whoop-de-doo, and decided to spruce up the whole country. The Daughters of the American Revolution and similar organizations got even more organized and they did some things on a big scale.

They had the first official world’s fair, in Philadelphia. It was a humdinger. They had the first working telephone there, with Alexander Graham Bell hisself on the other end of the line (and the exhibition hall) if you wanted to try it out. They had the first Remington typewriter. It was the first place in the country you could eat Heinz ketchup on your fries, if they had fries back then, and wash it down with that newfangled Hires root beer. On a less amusing note, someone got the bright idea to import some kudzu plants, and hand them out. They said it was handy for erosion control. I’ll leave it to my southern readers to decide if kudzu or Carter caused more trouble down there after being introduced. Other countries sent stuff. France sent the right arm of the Statue of Liberty. Germany exhibited enormous Krupp artillery pieces. I see a pattern developing there.

So everything colonial was the rage in 1876, and a lot of the towns in America went nuts turning their downtowns into colonial reproductions. I forget who made the joke, but they said they were afraid to go to the bathroom just then, because someone might paint their pecker white and hang black shutters on either side of it. They did it to everything. Including my house, even though it was built 25 years later, I’ll bet, because it became traditional.

Well, the white has got to go. First, we’ll fix the light. There’s an old rule in house carpentry that everything that sticks out of the house should have a block behind it. Hose bibb, doorbell, light fixture, whatever. I believe in that rule, so we fitted a wood block into the clapboards, and bought a new jelly jar light to paint around.

The window was painted shut, of course, but it’s easy to bash a 4″ broad knife along the seams and free it up. If you’ve never fixed a window with iron sash weights, pulleys, and sash cord (rope), it’s kinda fun. The apparatus is as simple as an Erector set. You can figure out how to fix it just by looking at it, generally. We got the sash working well again, scraped the errant paint off the glass, marveled at the perfect BB bullet hole in the glass, made by a BB heading out, of all things, replaced the loose putty, and painted it Mayflower Red.

I gave the kid a crack at painting the siding. He done good. Remember folks, top down, inside out. The underside of the clapboards is the in, and the face is the down.

As you can see in the pictures, this room was outside for many years, until it became an inside joke. We’ll turn it into something useful, I promise.

[To be continued. Thanks for reading and commenting. To support this site, tell your internet friends about Sippican Cottage]

One Response

  1. My parent’s old house built around 1919 or so had beautiful windows, but many of them were cracked. We also had a problem with, after the rain inside the walls from the ice dams, rotting sash weight cords. Pulling the windows out was tough since they had 60 years of multiple coats of varnish on them, but the guys who install the windows made life easy for sash weight cord replacement. They put little “doors” in the frames near the bottom where the sash weights would drop when the cords were cut (or rotted, in our case) and you could pry them open after removing two screws. Pull the weights out, fish the new cords over the little pulley wheels at the top (I’m sure there’s a real name for them; too lazy to look it up), and then tie the new cord to the weights. Put the knot in the right place (tricky for an 11-year old) and stuff the reglazed window back into place.

    If I ever build a new house I will put access panels EVERYWHERE I think something might possibly need to be maintained. Bless those old carpenters who knew what they were doing.

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